Thursday, September 29, 2011

brussels sprouts with bacon

I know I'm likely in the minority in this regard, but I love Brussels sprouts. They are yet another fall ritual. I'm lucky enough to be married to a man who will eat almost anything put in front of him...and even luckier that he also loves Brussels sprouts. Of course bacon makes everything better, so we basically add it to any roasted vegetable dish we make, most notably with turnips, butternut squash, and beets (or all of the above in this maple-glazed recipe).

I originally got the idea to roast Brussels sprouts from Guy Fieri; I'll take any excuse I can get to use my perfectly-seasoned cast iron skillet. A skillet has been basically the only tool my Dad uses in the kitchen, and I watched closely over the years while he made spaghetti sauce or pancakes in it, lovingly and carefully cleaning and drying the skillet afterward. I always think of my Dad when I use mine, which was one of my first kitchen purchases after college.

I have tweaked this recipe over the years until it has become my own. The tweaking began when I came across pomegranate molasses in a Halal butcher shop, where we were buying a goat leg to make Jamaican curry goat (more about this splendid dish in a post to come). I love it because it is sweet but also quite tangy, and it has a beautiful ruby color. It is a great substitute for balsamic vinegar to caramelize a pork tenderloin.

Pomegranate molasses may be difficult to find, although if you're ok with the expense I know you can get it at Whole Foods, and I recently saw it at Trader Joe's too. If you're feeling spunky, you can also try Alton Brown's homemade version. I've never tried making my own, but if you haven't cooked a recipe of AB's before, here's a word to the wise: he doesn't seem to mind suffering for his craft and can make some lengthy dishes that are in my opinion too much work.

A quick Interwebs search for similar recipes to my own turned up this one with pecans and cranberries; clearly tart and nuts go well with veggies and bacon. EVERYTHING goes with bacon.

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Image from: Closetcooking.com
Brussels sprouts with bacon

3-4 cups Brussels sprouts, cut into quarters
1/2 cup pine nuts
6 strips bacon, cut in pieces
olive oil
pomegranate molasses (or substitute with balsamic vinegar)
pomegranate seeds
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degF. Toast pine nuts in cast-iron skillet and set aside. Saute bacon until crisp and set aside. Add olive oil and Brussels sprouts, and caramelize. Add salt and pepper, more oil, and pomegranate molasses (a couple of drizzles around the pan). Toss and put in oven for 15-20 minutes. Toss finished product with pomegranate seeds and toasted pine nuts.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

the mantel: before and after

I have previously discussed my love of Pinterest, but I hadn't actually made anything I've pinned, aside from a chicken recipe, until now. I never would have taken on the mantel project in the first place had it not been for the zillions of gorgeous mantel decoration photos I'd scrolled through and pinned on Pinterest in recent weeks. I kept staring at my mantel last week, knowing I wanted to change it but thinking it would take time and money. But it didn't! I spent only a few minutes and $2 on a gourd. The rest of the stuff came from other places in the house.

I am annoyed at myself for not planning ahead and taking a picture of the drab, cliche mantel we had prior to my little project. Oh well, this blurry picture is the best I could find. Keep your expectations low:


Since you can't really see beyond Charlie's giant head, I'll paint you a picture. All that was on my mantel before was a framed map (which we love but was out of place there) and some books pinned between two carved elephant book ends.


Progress! It's still not perfect. I know I need to take down some accessories to make it less cluttered, I just can't decide which ones. I'm also looking forward to getting more fall elements as the weather changes, like maple leaves or a wheat bundle or two.




Wish I had the skills needed to edit out my external flash reflection in the picture of us in Paris. I currently have a 30-day Photoshop trial, but I'm finding that it is more difficult and less fun than I thought it would be to play around with it. Feels like work, you know? And when I'm Mommying, I'm all about doing only stuff that feels like play in my spare time. I still want to get some version of Adobe (probably either Photoshop Premier Elements or Lightroom), but I think I'm going to take a friend's advice and sign up for a class to help me understand all the fun gadgets.

Despite my amateur decorating and photographing technique, I'm linking to a fall-themed mantel blog party. I didn't know such a thing existed until reading a design blog today. There is much to love about the Interwebs these days.

Update 10/16/11: I added more fall elements to our mantel, including a few pumpkin tree branches from Trader Joe's, a giant gourd from a local farm, and some owl candles from TJ Maxx. Am I trendy or what?



Tuesday, September 27, 2011

ladies are BIG

Getting out the board books again for a second child brings me back some favorites, such as the one below, called "Big Little" by Leslie Patricelli...


That page cracks me up every time I turn to it. It doesn't matter how many times I see it. It's the small stuff in life, you know? And I suppose it's true...some ladies are big, am I right? Care to guess what little thing was paired with the big ladies?


Ladybugs, of course!

I had one of those really normal days yesterday when everything is as it should be. The woods were smelling very woodsy, the kids were being their usual hilarious selves, and the clean house had a zen-like feel. This coming weekend I will be participating in my first ever consignment sale as a seller, and I am preparing for the event with great anticipation and delight to be ridding my house of lots of baby clutter. Y'all know how I love to purge and organize. I'll report back with the tallied winnings, which will in turn be spent on...more kid stuff. It's an exciting life, I gotta say.

I should mention that I am saving all the best baby stuff for that "you never know, but you'd be pissed to buy it all again" time in our lives, and then also for my sister-in-law. No pressure, Sista, I know you're not even married yet. So get married already! (Ok, so a little pressure never hurts).

I had a first "date" with my new bud from Vivi's school. Just to be sure we're on the same page, I'm talking about a mom, not a kid--remember "Laid Back Mom"? It was so nice to chat with a normal person at an impromptu hour at the park after school. And hey, it turns out she has some anxieties about preschool too. Who knew?

Monday, September 26, 2011

my cat is like the honey badger...

...aka how NOT to bathe your cat...

It isn't often that you learn something about a man after being with him for over ten years. Friends, I learned something about my husband last night.

I've always known him to be well groomed and to expect the same from me. Part of his appeal when we were courting was that he was the only 20-year-old guy I knew who used Pantene. Pantene! I was whisked away by the scents of a dewey meadow, and now here we sit ten years later philosophizing about the value of pets. To be clear, we were actually discussing whether or not we should keep our cat. To be even more clear, he was discussing, I was hysterically raving. If it had been a silent movie, you would have sensed how I was feeling.

So ok, some stuff happened in the middle. I'll back up a bit. Recently we noticed our once perfectly coiffed, lovely gray cat has been getting rough around the edges. Like the nastyass honey badger, she just don't care about cleaning herself. It's as though she has suddenly decided to grow dreads on her back, which makes for some gross petting. What could we do? Well, we started by cutting off the problem, but that was no use, as though the cutting caused little baby dreads to spring up out of the stubs. It was not a pretty sight.

We chose to ignore the situation for a while, until this weekend's cleaning fest. I really do wish my in-laws would visit more, both because I love seeing family and because an upcoming visit causes me to conduct a cleaning frenzy of the kind typically reserved only for selling your home. We're talking under the radiator, behind the cleaning products under the sink, outside of the windows kind of scrubbing.

That's when we got a tad overzealous. Looking around at our pristine home, I began to puff myself up, thinking I might just be a cleaning genius, one who could scrub even a cat until she shined like new. I even took pictures so I could photograph the great cat remodeling event of '11. Although I hate to say it, I was wrong. WRONG. Do not try this at home. Don't even think about it. There was much screaming (the cat and me), much combing, and some more cutting, and lots of fur flying about. And now? Now she resembles a sheep that's been shorn by a drunk, blind shepherd.

Which brings us to what I learned about Nate. After the failed experiment, we were bemusedly sitting about, contemplating what had just happened and our own new-found cat-cleaning ineptitude. I won't go into the details, but our conversation shifted into whether it was worth keeping an animal that's still got her cool personality but is no longer her once-gorgeous self. I was surprised to learn we are of different minds on the subject.

Sufficed to say, I will continue to maintain myself with hair cuts and trips to the gym, because I see where this train could go if I'm not grooming on a regular basis. I'm kidding of course. In fact, I am the fortunate recipient of daily remarks on how beautiful he thinks I am, despite sometimes still wearing last night's scrubby pjs in the afternoon and seriously needing to rethink how often I pluck my eyebrows. And make-up? What's that?

So let's recap. How to bathe your cat:

Step 1. Do not bathe your cat. Just don't do it!

Because I love you all, I will leave you with a photo that makes me chuckle. Happy cleaning!


Friday, September 23, 2011

rum raisin rice pudding

I'm not a big eater of sweets. In fact, I'm more likely to pick up a piece of fruit most days than a piece of chocolate. I especially hate making my own dessert because of the science required in measuring ingredients. I'm more of a taste-it-as-I-go kind of cook--a smidgen here, a drizzle there. The huge exception to that rule is rice pudding. I can devour a pint or more of rice pudding in a sitting, especially when I was pregnant.

I have made many versions of rice pudding over the years. To be honest, you don't even need my recipe. Just Google "rice pudding" and whatever ingredient you feel like tasting that day, like cardamom or pistachios. There are many adaptations out there, and it's one of the easier desserts to make, so long as you don't scald the milk. "Rum raisin" is one of my favorite variations. When I feel like being decadent, I use Ina Garten's recipe; but when I remember I don't want to end up wearing a shent, I opt for the following lower-calorie recipe.

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rum raisin rice pudding
serves 4

1 c. short-grain rice
4 c. whole milk
2 sticks cinnamon
2 cardamom pods
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. dark rum
1 c. raisins

Boil milk and cinnamon. Be sure to bring the milk to boil slowly while stirring constantly so it doesn't scald the bottom of the pan. Wash rice until water runs clear and drain well. Add to milk. Simmer gently uncovered for 12-15 minutes. Remove cinnamon and add condensed milk and vanilla. Meanwhile, in a small pan, simmer rum and raisins until plump and almost all the rum is gone. Cook rice covered another 10-15 minutes very slowly. Cool. Add raisins and dust with more cinnamon.

Update (1-29-12): Below is a quicker variation on the recipe if you have leftover rice and no time for the rum-raisin steeping.


2 c. cooked white rice
2 c. whole milk
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1 c. sweetened condensed milk (I buy an organic variety at Trader Joe's in a plastic bottle)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup raisins

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

snack-tastic foods and shopping at Whole Paycheck

Today was my day to prepare snacks for the 16 three and four-year-olds in my daughter's class. I'm not sure I have anything interesting to note about the event, except that it made me ponder my own competitiveness. I am always a bit taken aback at myself when I feel a hot streak coming on, and this instance was particularly odd timing. Is my child's classroom really the best setting for me to enact dog-eat-dog rivalries? Perhaps not. Luckily, given that I am acutely aware of my killer instinct, I nipped the feeling in the bud and will hopefully avoid partaking in any cutthroat playground behavior in the future.

But I admit when I scanned the list of snack ideas, the thought did cross my mind that I hoped whatever I brought would measure up by comparison. In the end, I chose a fairly simple but insanely delicious snack, graham crackers with cream cheese, with apple slices and raisins to keep it respectable. Let's be real, people--who on this earth does not want to devour a gallon of cream cheese? If you have never had that snack, I don't know what to tell you. You're missing out.

In other school-related news, I have a buddy! Remembering the old Girl Scout tradition of making new friends, I sucked up my pride and timorousness on the first day of class and chit-chatted with the other moms (and even a few dads, hurray for them!). After all, if I'm going to cheer on my kid to meet her classmates, I suppose I should do the same. My bud is much more easy-going than me, which helps ease my inner antagonist. Did she remember to bring five wallet-size photos of her daughter, AND a family picture, AND a change of clothes, AND put them all in a gallon zip-lock bag with her daughter's name on the first day? No she did not, and she didn't apologize either. Are you listening? Did not make excuses, didn't even flinch, just tossed her hair a bit, smiled and said "I'll bring those things next time." Oh, to be so cavalier! Reader, I am taking notes.

While #1 was in class this morning, I took #2 (hmmm, note to self: must think of another short-hand besides "number two") to a new tumbling tots class for one and two-year-olds. Another chance to meet other moms, yea! I put on my game face and did it, and boy am I glad we did. She socialized like a champ, and so did I. It was fortunate for my tenuous nerves that I didn't notice until after we left class that I had unwittingly stuck my daughter in a hand-me-down pink onesie with the words "Obama Girl" across the front. What ever must they have thought of me? "I'll show those moms a thing or two. They need to know who I voted for when I enter the room." Oh well, at least she's adorable; for now I'll have to hope that makes up for my inadvertent politicking. What would Judith Martin say?

Lastly in my morning out was a quick stop to Whole Foods. I had a Groupon to use up, so I entered the yuppy chain with unusual zeal. I must relay, dear readers, that something comes over me when I am shopping with a coupon. I get an extra little pep in my step, and I browse over the items on the menu or shelf with a gleeful glint. An appetizer? Sure! A $7 jar of pickles? Why not! When all was said and done, I left that store with $14 worth of pickles, a pint of brilliant heirloom tomatoes, some blue eggs, and a glass jar of milk. Couldn't they have put it in a porcelain jar? And that is the note that I will end with to give you your cautionary tale of the day: beware of the superhero spending ability that often accompanies coupon shopping.




animal crackers and cocoa to drink

A few nights ago I made myself cocoa instead of tea and dunked animal crackers in it, for probably the first time since I was six years old. As I sat down with my treat, I suddenly was whisked back to being a child on my mom's lap, as she read me poems from an old tattered storybook she had kept since she was small. Here's the poem I remembered:

Animal Crackers
By: Christopher Morley

Animal crackers and cocoa to drink,
That is the finest of suppers, I think;
When I'm grown up and can have what I please
I think I shall always insist upon these.

What do you choose when you're offered a treat?
When Mother says, "What would you like best to eat?"
Is it waffles and syrup, or cinnamon toast?
It's cocoa and animals that I love the most!

The kitchen's the coziest place that I know:
The kettle is singing, the stove is aglow,
And there in the twilight, how jolly to see
The cocoa and animals waiting for me.

Daddy and Mother dine later in state,
With Mary to cook for them, Susan to wait;
But they don't have nearly as much fun as I
Who eat in the kitchen with Nurse standing by;
And Daddy once said he would like to be me
Having cocoa and animals once more for tea!

It's still as good as I remembered.

Image via: Amazon.com

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

somebody loves baseball...

Vivi was just a tad excited to hear she might be able to play baseball tonight in the yard with Daddy.
video

p.s. She is really and truly like this ALL the time. Where does she find the energy?

I am posting a video of Charlie even though the High 5 trick wasn't nearly as funny the second time. I just hate the thought of her missing the spotlight next to her hambone sister.

video

Vivisms, vol 27


Charlotte crawls away...
Me: Charlie! Where are you going?
Vivi: She's going to Boston.

Vivi (after hiccuping): Mommy, I just hicced up.

Vivi (shouting from the next room): Mommy, Charlotte go pooped!

Practicing her foreigner speaking Ebonyx...
Vivi: What it means lunch?
Me: Pardon?
Vivi: I'm axing you a question, Mommy. Why its lunch?
Me: Because it's lunch time, so we are going to eat.
Vivi: No. Aghhh. I know it be's time, I wanna know what is lunch?
Me: Oh, we're having peanut butter and jelly.
Vivi: NO! I know THAT already!
Me: I'm not sure I understand your question, honey.
Vivi: Oh, nevermind.

Telling me like it is, after I banged around some pots and pans...
Vivi: Mommy, do you know what "taking it easy" means? [pause for effect, hands on hips] It means you should stop being so loud, don't make as much noise, and be quiet.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

photo book of the kiddos at the park

I made a photo book tonight because I got a freebie from Shutterfly as a thank you for being their customer. That's my kind of company. Hear that, Netflix/Quikster?

p.s. It is sooo easy to make a photo book with their automatic layout maker. This took me about twenty minutes, including the time I spent logging in and ordering.



on Twain & correspondence

To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.  ~Phyllis Theroux

Today's a rainy day, and we just returned from the library with a new armload of bliss (aka. quiet reading material for the three-year-old). It's the ideal time to catch up on my correspondence. I adore sending and receiving mail. Ok, especially receiving mail. 

Now that I have perfected the "no junk mail" routine, I selfishly hope snail mail will never disappear, even as I know it is a needle in our sagging economy's stack of needles we need to reconsider. I admit to being a fair-weather postal service fan; I'm nowhere near as diehard as a friend who frequently blogs about and volunteers with the USPS. In fact, if they do decide we can only receive mail a few times a week, I'll grow even fonder of it when it comes.

I probably needn't worry about mail though, given our government's typical response to such issues. Example: we need to get rid of the 1-cent coin because it costs more than a cent to create one? I have the solution! Let's spend a ton of money we don't have commemorating the penny by releasing a bunch of new ugly designs of penny. Brilliant!

Unlike with the penny, I am a big fan of when the post office comes out with new stamp designs. The letter above went to my cousin John, who is currently in Iraq helping us get one step closer to being able to depart (for good, I hope). I am in love with these Twain stamps. I am really looking forward to being able to read the Mark Twain classics to the girls some day. 

I will never forget it was a Twain collection of short stories, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches, that got me through the ghastly 23 hours of flying from Atlanta to Beijing when I was 13.

Do you have a Twain favorite? How about a favorite stamp?

Monday, September 19, 2011

crispy kale chips

Image Credit: Vida Health
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Kale season is upon us. A sucker for crunchy salty things, I look forward to my big bowl of kale chips. No joke, they are as delicious as potato chips, if not more so, and are undoubtedly healthier. We learned this quick, fantastic recipe from a cooking show with Jacques Pepin, who is on the short list to be at my hypothetical dinner table of notable figures. Think it's cliche to invite a chef to dinner? Too bad. It's my list.

kale chips

a big bunch of kale
olive oil
salt
red pepper flakes (optional)

Remove the tough stems and chop kale into 2-3 inch pieces (they will shrink in the oven). Put in a big bowl and toss with oil, pepper flakes, and salt. Don't be too generous with the salt; you can always add more when they come out of the oven. Crisp up on baking rack over a sheet pan at 350 degF for 15 minutes. Toss halfway through the cooking process.

Editor's note: This post is part of Slightly Indulgent Tuesday.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

a gross multiple choice question

Guess what I stepped on when I was cleaning the toys out of the tub tonight...

A) a wet washcloth
B) a wet diaper
C) a wet pizza crust
D) all of the above



Anyone guess D? Ding ding! Dare not ask how these items appeared on my bathroom floor tonight. Just pray for my sanity. Counting the minutes until my dearly beloved returns from his testosteroneathon tomorrow...

Friday, September 16, 2011

priorities

I've got no shortage of activities to keep me busy while Nate's out of town.

My bedside table is fully stocked with good reads (Jon Krakauer's "Where Men Win Glory" and Tina Fey's "Bossypants"), I've got movies from the library (finally checked out "La Vie en Rose" and also re-rented "It's Complicated" just for laughs), and I recently discovered all of the episodes of The History Channel's "American Pickers" are available to watch instantly on Netflix.

But I can already feel myself slipping back down the rabbit hole of the Interwebs. Right when I had begun managing my obsession with Pinterest, along comes another too-fun, time-sucking website, this time a mock blog written from the point of view of Suri Cruise, in which she puts down other children of celebrities for their sloppy attire.

Who needs intelligent books when I've got satire mixed with gawking at unwanted paparazzi shots of celebrities' kids? Surely a wicked combo. I should feel ashamed, but instead I'm sharing it with you. You're welcome!

it's fall, y'all

It's another spectacular autumn day in Boston. The girls and I spent a few hours at the park soaking up the sun and breeze, and Vivi didn't even break a sweat! That's what 61 degF gets you. Ahhhh. I just want to bottle this up and bring it out in March when I am sick of the snow and ice and say "See?! It's worth living in Boston! Don't forget!"

As soon as the barometer drops below 65, I know I won't be seen in a bikini for a while so immediately begin thinking of all the carb-loaded foods I want to make. The hubster is in Athens this weekend playing tennis with the boys and calling the dawgs, so I decided to partake in one of my own fall rituals and cook up a comfort dish. Up today was mac & cheese, one of my favorites. You can dress it up or down, depending on your mood and the company you're serving. Since this time I am serving just me, I dressed it way down to the essentials. Below is the basic recipe, but you can always take a tip from Ina and add some fancy cheese if you want to dazzle guests.

link round-up: design ideas

Image courtesy of: Charlotte Minty, Interior Design

Image courtesy of: knockoffdecor.com


The older I get, the more into design I become. Design appeals to my frugality because I can pick up treasures in a thrift store and refinish a desk or old frame to make it shine like new. I'm still no fashionista, and I probably never will be because no matter how you cut fashion, it's expensive to be in style, and expensive and I don't mix.

Now that I have a family, I find myself fantasizing about what our future home might look like, and I surprise myself that these daydreams often include me decorating the home and doing DIY crafty projects. Perhaps it's because now that I am at home with the kids, I have the down time I needed to relax and become inspired. Today I'm sharing some of what inspires me:
  • My DIY-loving cousin introduced me to a great DIY design blog, Centsational Girl. Also check out how she's giving back to her community. Cool chick.
  • When you have time for some virtual page-flipping, stop by an online style magazine. There are many out there, so here are just a few: House of Fifty, Ivy & Piper, Adore.
  • A couple of great examples of gallery walls on Oh So Beautiful Paper, a DC friend's blog. I've gathered a few of my own too on Pinterest, among other dream home inspirations.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

our baby is all grows up

Vivi had her first full day of preschool today! We had a meet-and-greet on Tuesday, and she loves the teachers already. They did a quick circle time to show the parents what a typical day is like, and the teachers engaged the children with questions during the story. Vivi had her hand up at every opportunity, even pushing it higher with the other hand and waving it back and forth. She loves to be the center of attention, especially when it comes to showing off what she's learned. I love her enthusiasm, but I hope she won't bully the other kids. Another mom kindly said to me after watching her bulldoze over another kid, "She's just assertive. That's a good thing!" Well, maybe when it's someone else's kid, but I do wonder if the other parents think I coach her on how to get her way, when it couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, I think she's just been quicker than most 3-year-olds at figuring out she can run the show if she just has the guts to take control, so she seizes it faster than they can say "Go play!" I think school is going to be great for her, and I look forward to hearing all about what she's learned. Even more than that, I am hoping to make some new friends myself, so maybe I can go for coffee with another mom and actually have a couple of minutes of adult conversation. What a novel concept!



I'm sorry, did you say something?...

If I didn't respond to your email or answer my phone or come to the knock at the door, it's because I have fallen in love with Pinterest. It may be the coolest thing ever to have graced the Interwebs and has rapidly become my favorite activity during nap time. You can "pin" anything you find that has an image associated with it, like a recipe, a nifty craft project, or an inspiration for a room in your house. So long disorganized magazine clippings, hello Pinterest. You should check it out! But don't say I didn't warn you about the potential for time suckage...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Vivisms, vol 26

Me: Do you want more spaghettios?
Vivi: Yes, please!
Me: Wow, you're the spaghettios queen!
Vivi: No, I'm not.  I don't have a crown.

Charlotte laughing in the back seat...
Vivi: Charlotte's laughing! She likes my face.

Watching a movie...
Vivi: I don't like that guy!
Me: Don't worry. He won't hurt anybody.
Vivi: Yes he will!

Vivi: This is the best kind of cheese EVER.
Me: I'm glad you like it.
Vivi: I love these 'chicken peas' (chickpeas) too. And I love chickadees. Chicka-dee-dee-dee-dee! And I love Grandpa.

Vivi: We have new movies from the library, Mommy! I want to watch "Flushed in the Toilet" (aka "Flushed Away").

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

...in which I recall my vow to adopt

Africa! 

I woke up on my first day in Nairobi, Kenya feeling both excited and bewildered to begin our first journey, after having spent nearly a fifth of my pocket money calling my mom from the hotel to tell her I was safe the night before. A long and confusing few hours at the bank were a good way to introduce us to "African time," the unhurried, content pace of a people simultaneously only one continent but also several worlds away.

Next stop, a trip to a local park. Mind reeling from the jet lag and the grasshopper weed a few of us *legally* indulged in during our quick stop in Amsterdam, I plopped myself on a rock on the edge of the park. Maybe calling it jet lag was my way of avoiding chitchat with my fellow American students; I eschew small talk like the plague, hence why it takes me a year and a half to make friends in a new city. Meanwhile, my comrades happily took pictures of each other enthusiastically feeding the resident park monkeys some peanuts, while Kenyans casually snuck glances of the wazungu making spectacles of themselves. Imagine a group of Africans joyfully feeding rats some popcorn in Central Park, and you'll probably have a good idea of what those Kenyans must have been thinking of us feeding their pesty "vermin." It became even more peculiar when I noticed shoeless, dirty children were apprehensively following behind the gluttonous monkeys, picking up and eating the peanuts they dropped. Stunned doesn't come close to how I felt at that moment.

Upon piling back into the matatu, I asked my professor about the scene I had just witnessed. "Street children," he returned, with a sad and knowing look, "sometimes called 'urchins' by locals. They are orphans who wander the streets in search of food and donations." Like every other American with a television, I had grown up seeing the Christian Children's Fund commercials, so I knew there were needy children in the world. It's hard to remember exactly what I comprehended about them prior to this experience, but my images likely involved orphanages ala Little Orphan Annie and Great Expectations. I was amazed to learn that children as young as Vivi lived on the street with no one to care for them. While I can't recall the thoughts I had before I knew these kids existed, I will never forget the one thought that occupied my mind for a long time afterward: I will adopt a child.

Ten years and eons of life experiences later, I would still love to adopt a child, but the concept has taken on some baggage on the con side of the equation. Family have understandably asked many hard questions, like whether we recognize that we are potentially subjecting our children to being raised alongside a child with special needs, how we will afford to pay the adoption fees, and why we would consider adopting when we know we can create such beautiful children ourselves, i.e. why not let people who can't have children of their own be the ones to adopt. I chatted recently about these questions with my lifelong friend AnnaLysa, and she reminded me that fostering a child is always an option, which could eventually lead to adoption in the right circumstances. I appreciate her letting me continue the dream in my mind, whether or not it becomes a reality some day.

Monday, September 12, 2011

grandma louise's brisket

It is your lucky day, dear readers. I am sharing one of the few cherished family recipes I have and use regularly. This brisket is a beloved staple in my dad's family. Sharing the gwumpki recipe prompted me to share a tradition from the other side of the family too. My cousin Shonter and I love this meal so much that we practically beg my grandma to make it when we're together. I have to warn you that although you and I can make brisket, it will never be my grandma's brisket. I'm not sure what she does that is so special; I have watched her make it zillions of times and jotted notes along the way, but it will never be as good as hers. Ah well, I suppose there's something poetic about that.

brisket

serves: 6 hungry people, or 4 with leftovers
prep time: 15 minutes, plus 1-2 days marination
cook time: 4 1/2 hours

1 4 lb. beef brisket, untrimmed
1 large onion, chopped4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
3 yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut in half
6 carrots, peeled and cut in half
Fresh chopped herbs

Marinade:
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup steak sauce (I use Heinz 57)
1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
3 Tbs. left-over coffee, or 1 tsp. instant coffee granules
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. sugar

Criss-cross two large sheets of foil. Line in shallow baking dish. Lay meat, onions, and garlic on foil and cover with liquid marinade. Marinate in refrigerator at least overnight, preferably two days.

Preheat oven to 300 degF. Cook brisket for 3.5 hours. While brisket is cooking, steam potatoes and carrots until fork-tender but not falling apart. Place meat on cutting board and catch juices. After 1 hour of cooling, cut against the grain on a slant about 1/8 inch thick. Place meat back in liquid, add potatoes and carrots, (add water if more liquid is needed) and reseal in foil tightly. Cook 1 additional hour at 300 degF. Top finished brisket with herbs; I like basil and flat-leaf parsley.

Friday, September 09, 2011

the lone home ranger


Home, home on the range,
Where the husband and children play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the wife does the housework all day.

I used to feel like I was the only woman in the world having kids. Thankfully, I'm no longer all by myself, as many of my girlfriends and family are joining the maternal ranks. But staying home with their little rug rats? Not many. I'm back to flying nearly solo again. When told I don't work, most people my age will say, with a somewhat contemptuous sneer, "I could never do that...but good for you!" Interestingly, I find baby boomers to be the most supportive of my decision to stay home with the girls. What should we call that shift? The women's un-liberation movement? Or is it possible these women learned the hard way that they fought two battles: the good fight...and the unnecessary fight?

A curious sentiment I've heard from the baby-boom generation is the Andy Rooney-esque claim that my generation complains a lot about parenthood, while at the same time having more tools to deal with parenthood than they had. Some even go so far as to call us "the entitlement generation." Contrast their observation with a recent NPR article, noting parents don't complain as often as they should. I have to wonder whether the accusation has some merit. Do we complain as much as they say we do? Let's suppose for a moment it's true. If we really do voice our opinions too much, who is responsible? Us for feeling worthy of having it all, or our fore-mothers for fighting to give us the chance to feel that way? I like to think it was all the rabble-rousing our hippie moms did in the '60's and '70's that paved the way for our ability to speak our minds. So why does it seem they have less pride in our expressiveness than resentment?

Don't get me wrong; I am entirely thankful for their hard work. I've enjoyed having a career, felt valued in my position by both my male and female peers and superiors, and made the same salary as my male counterparts. My happy work situation would not have been possible without the change incited by the women's libbers. Call me entitled, but I think we CAN have it all--work when we want to work, and stay home for a while too. However, a byproduct of the feminist revolution is our society's disdainful view of homemaking. It's as though we fought for the opportunity to choose our destiny and then immediately narrowed our options again. Ten years ago, I would have told you there was no way I would ever quit my job to raise my kids, believing it to be a prison only befitting those crafty moms with traditional values or the unfortunate few without a college degree.

I could be among the few for whom this stay-at-home situation works, but I consider my work as a "home ranger" and my dear hubby's to be equal in keeping our household afloat, and as far as I know he does too. Whereas we once continuously jockeyed for position at dish or laundry time, we no longer squabble about which chores will be done by whom. I foresee myself going back to work full time in a few years, and I am appreciative to have the option to do so. I just hope our generation will teach our daughters to celebrate the many choices available to women instead of judging each other's decisions.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

autumn


From "A Vagabond Song"
by Bliss Carman

There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood --
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.


I got home from Atlanta yesterday, and there was the unmistakeable feeling of autumn in the Boston air. I celebrated by breaking out some of my traditional fall rituals, of which I have many. Last night's included donning a comfy sweatshirt, making a giant bowl of spaghetti, and lounging on the couch with a mug of mint tea and some ginger snaps.

How do you ring in the new season? Do you have a favorite fall ritual?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

beauty

"To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself."
Thich Nhat Hanh

It was not difficult to teach my daughter the meaning of the word "beautiful." In fact, I don't remember teaching it to her. One day she turned to me and said "Mommy, you look beautiful today!" Talk about heart-melting. But I know one day beauty will begin to change meaning for my girls and take on a caveat here, an addendum there. She already seems to understand that looking "pretty" takes time and patience, and she routinely requests two french braids even though the process causes her discomfort and some missed playtime. As someone who rarely takes longer than five minutes to apply makeup, if I wear it at all, I find it intriguing that she is such a "beautiphile," and I have no doubt from whom she inherited the trait (he hem, hubster).

I want for my girls to see beauty as the rule rather than the exception. Because I know that the best way to teach a behavior is to be a good role model, I'm working on my own definition of beauty and learning to accept myself for who I am.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

fish en papillote: a fancy name for a simple dish


You might remember this picture from my post about fiddlehead ferns back in June. The original recipe calls for halibut, but it is expensive and can be hard to find, so we substitute salmon. It also calls for commercial pesto, which is certainly a fine substitute on occasion for the real deal. But since it's summer and we have plenty in our pot o' herbs, I've been making my own pesto and freezing the leftovers. It really couldn't be simpler, and it's one of those recipes that's tough to mess up. In what is perhaps a foregone conclusion for those of you who follow my recipe posts, I use Ina Garten's recipe for pesto, although if I have to listen to her again tell me to use "good" olive oil and "good" mayonnaise, I might stop watching altogether. As if my tendency was to buy the crappiest stuff, but since you mentioned it Ina, I will get the "good" stuff. Sorry for the rant.

Below are my adaptations of the two recipes, first for the fish and then for the pesto.

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parchment-baked pesto salmon
serves 4

4 (12- x 18-inch) heart-shaped sheets of parchment paper
Cooking spray (we use an olive oil pump sprayer)
4 salmon fillets
1/4 c. pesto (see recipe below)
1 c. julienned carrots (2 medium)
1 cup julienned zucchini (1 small)
3/4 tsp. salt, divided
1/2 tsp. pepper, divided
4 tsp. olive oil
4 tsp. white wine
Preheat oven to 450degF. Unfold parchment heart and coat lightly with cooking spray, leaving a 2-inch border ungreased at edge. Place fillet on one side so that it touches the fold. Spread 1 Tbs. pesto over fillet. Sprinkle with 1/4 c. carrot, 1/4 c. zucchini, and a fourth of salt and pepper. Drizzle fillet with 1 tsp oil and 1 tsp wine.

Fold paper and crinkle edges to make a seal. Place packets on sheet pans. Bake at 450° for 7 min. or until lightly browned. Open packets (watch out for steam!) and transfer the fillets with their vegetable topping to plates; pour juices over top.

pesto

1/2 c. walnuts
3 Tbs. minced garlic
5 c. fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley leaves, packed
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 1/2 c. olive oil
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
Place the walnuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse for 15 seconds. Add the herbs, salt, and pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed (our processor is small and doesn't have a hole at the top, so I just open it and add in small batches, which works fine). Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute. Use right away or store the pesto in the refrigerator or freezer with a thin film of olive oil on top. I put mine in ice cube trays and then transfer cubes to vacuum-sealed freezer bags.

Friday, September 02, 2011

i am becoming...

From "Finding Her Here"
by Jayne Relaford Brown

I am becoming the woman I've longed for,
the motherly lover
with arms strong and tender,
the growing up daughter
who blushes surprises.
I am becoming full moons
and sunrises.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Charlie is one year old!

 Dear Charlotte,
You are such a wonderful little toddler already! It's hard to believe just a year ago you were a helpless little baby. You had your first sentence recently: Dada baba nigh-nigh. You love having your daddy put you to bed. We are pleased to see your personality is really starting to show. We call you "Gremlin;" where Vivi was more of a high-pitched ewok (as in the little furry Star Wars critters), you have this hilarious low growl to your voice. We used to be afraid that you wouldn't let us know if you were hurting because you cried so infrequently, but that has all changed! You are very opinionated, especially when you are hungry, and your scream is sometimes at a frequency only dogs can hear. But for the most part, you are still our little sweetie who barely makes a peep of fuss.

You have lots of new tricks lately. One trick is that you are finally waving bye-bye; it looks a bit Arsenio Hall-ish, but it took forever for you to get here so we're not complaining. You also love to walk-scoot along the furniture, and you even stand without touching anything for a few seconds. You seem much closer to walking than Genevieve was at this age. You want so badly to keep up with her! When Vivi was at camp for a week, you beamed at me while you played with her toys...finally, a moment all to yourself. You love to laugh; even when you don't quite get the joke yet, you crinkle up your nose and laugh along with us.

Separation anxiety comes and goes, but for the most part as long as your sister is in the room with you, you are fine with me leaving. But if you are hungry, you'll cling to my leg and flap your arms if I try to leave the room without you. You inherited Daddy's good appetite just like Vivi. If I sit on the floor while you are playing, you will occasionally crawl over and stand on my lap to give me a big hug and kiss. You are so snuggly! I will miss my little chubby bunny, but I am looking forward to getting to know the child you will become.

Love, Mommy

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